On Crucibles

Hazing rituals at frats are falling out of fashion nowadays, but I think the core concept of the ritual is valuable to any organization. Pressure is a tried and true way of establishing rapport and building intimacy between a shared group. It’s not something that is guaranteed to build relationships, but it’s certainly conducive to it. Think of situations like army troops that survive multiple battles together. There’s no way something like that doesn’t build a certain kind of bond or trust between people – those are people who know their comrades will have their back in a life or death situation. Hazing rituals can only begin to scratch the surface of that.

I think hazing is a pretty multi faceted form of onboarding to fraternities. First, they create a ritual that is shared experience between pledges, and gives them common ground with older members of the same organization. Second, it gives their entry into the organization a sense of value – it’s not something that anyone could just join – we had to work for it. Third, the pressure of the environment is a natural environment to create tighter bonds between pledges. Crises are like a hyperbolic time chamber for relationships – you can accomplish way more in a shorter period of time depending on the intensity of the crisis.

The hazing ritual at fraternities is tangential to what I wanted to talk about, which is work environments. Different work environments can be conducive to different relationships between coworkers – this should be self evident. High pressure work environments that force death march hours onto all of its employees can almost be a blessing in disguise in that they can build strong that work really well together – I’ve heard this used to be pretty common in game development, when games were hitting their release date, the developers would enter a period called “crunch mode” in which they basically lived in the office.  You can imagine those teams being tight.

Environments where individual performance are the top priority can lead to situations where people will bend or break the rules constantly without worrying about the common good, because they know only individual performance matters. This is pretty common in sales – top salesmen don’t usually have set hours, and they get a ton of leeway to sell a client, including expense accounts that aren’t necessarily scrutinized at the level that due diligence would ordinarily be called for.  They can get bigger asks from other departments, even if their asks can negatively impact departments as a whole. You don’t have to work together with your coworkers as the top performer. Instead, you can demand more from others. That’s not to say that this is always the case, of course. This type of environment is just less conducive to teamwork, because it gives more leverage to individuals who produce more. It’s harder to work as equals with someone when you know the other person can say, “Nah, I don’t wanna do this work. You do it.” and you actually have to do the work if you want to keep your job.

Working dynamics is a fascinating topic.

On Human Relations

I feel like HR in a business is widely considered to be a job for soulless workers who exist in an adversarial capacity against anyone who threatens the livelihood of the business, but mostly in the form of internal threats. Largely, when I hear of HR, I hear of ways in which the business finds ways to proactively shield itself against its own employees. I understand the need for this devil’s advocate role – if the business doesn’t set aside resources to protect itself, no one else will do it on the company’s behalf, so it needs to establish some muscle for itself.  On the other hand, I feel like this should only really be a minor capacity of the HR role.

Any business will of course need resources to protect itself, but I envision the human relations department as a much more important role than just gatekeeping the vulnerabilities of the company. At its heart, I feel like the ideal goal of the human relation department is to propagate the cultural values of the company. This manifests itself in a pretty diverse manner – things like the hiring process, onboarding for new employees, and even team/company events are things I see human relations having a hand in establishing.

The hiring process is important in establishing a company’s culture, because it’s the first glimpse of the internal workings of the company that potential employees get to see. I’d imagine as a young business with few employees, the hiring process would be pretty ad-hoc – that’s to be expected, and new hires would realize that instantly. This is already a big filter – you’re getting people who either want to get in on the ground floor, or at least are indifferent to it. Employees who are looking for more stability or a more professional/corporate environment are already looking at the door.  Neither is inherently better than the other, but realize that how you structure your hiring directly impacts the type of people that join your work.

To me, onboarding is a top priority the moment you become bigger than a one man shop. Onboarding is really the step in which you inculcate the values of the company into your employees. No documentation?  You can probably expect the company doesn’t have well defined processes in place – operations are probably more ad-hoc. Do they give you relative freedom as a new hire, or do they set you on rails? If it’s the former, the company probably lets employees bend the rules as long as they produce. If it’s the latter, the job is more likely structured to stick with strict adherence to being by the book. I’m thinking of sales vs. accounting here.

Human relations gets a bad beat, but they have an important role in any company. Many of the qualities of good human relations can be pretty intangible, though – people recognize a good culture, or a culture they’re compatible with, but it’s hard to quantify it in business terms. If I ever start my own business, I really want to dip my toes in HR. I think culture is probably the single most important factor in any company. Culture represents a direct application of a company’s values. That matters, at least to me.

Life Goals Reevaluation, June 2017 Edition

A while back, I wrote some blog posts about my life goals.

An important part of reaching goals is maintaining accountability. So I’m going to take a look back and see what my goals were, how far along I got, and reevaluating my priorities. It’s possible my priorities have shifted over time. After all, when I was in college, my priority was finding a stable, well paying job. I found that job, but now that I’ve achieved it, I realize this isn’t really as important to me as finding a job I can actually stand. I’m more than willing to take a significant pay cut to find something I’ll look forward to doing every day. Without further ado, here’s a list of goals I set for myself in March:

  • Lose weight (5-10 pounds) – No go.
  • Establish emergency savings fund – I have a pretty good savings fund established, enough for probably six months + worth of living expenses. However, because I’m leaving my job, I’ll need to live off of this fund for the time being. +1 for hitting this one, though.
  • Keep blogging on a weekly basis – Ehhhhh. I missed the mark pretty far. I made it on about a biweekly schedule, which isn’t ideal but at least I’m still semi regular. This is the one I think I can accomplish most realistically in a short term time frame.

Long Term Goals

  • Learn to play an instrument or sing – No Progress. I have this harmonica that’s been sitting around, but I haven’t touched it at all. I might try picking this one up in the mid-term future, i.e. in the range of 3-5 months down the line. Low priority.
  • Learn to draw – I totally forgot about this. Low priority
  • Publish a book – I don’t do any writing at all, besides these blogs. I think blogging counts as incremental progress towards publishing a book, even though they’re really orthogonal practices. However, popular blogs seem to always result in pushing an ebook, so maybe if someone ever decides to read this crap I can bundle up a couple of posts, self publish, and cross this off my list. Low Priority.
  • Keep blogging on a near-daily basis – Nope. At least it’s semi regular! Middling priority.
  • Learn a new language – I’m not practicing studying now, but I’m signing up for a class with a hard commitment. This is the most likely to be accomplished in the near term future (Well, near for a long term goal – I’m talking in the one year range) High priority.
  • Live in a foreign country (Though it could also be relatively short term – I could easily uproot my life any time within the upcoming months to the next year if I quit my job) – This one’s doable by the end of the year. Priority is somewhere in the middle of the pack, but convenience dictates this will be the easiest to accomplish while I’m between jobs. 
  • Lose weight (40-50 pounds) – I’ve made zero strides. Priority: middling?
  • Own a home – Millenial lol (Low priority – I’m not sure I’m ready to restrict my mobility by tying myself down to one geographic location.)
  • Run the Iditarod – This is the moonshot. First of all, I’m going to need to learn a ton of domain knowledge to accomplish this. I don’t know what I don’t know. Second, it’s going to be super expensive to actually do – I’d need a team of sled dogs and experience mushing to begin to be ready for this one. This one also conflicts with a couple of my other goals, in that moving to a tropical country is going to blog me somewhat from preparing for this. Let me review the feasibility of this one in about three years. Low Priority
  • Start my own business – I haven’t done anything to move towards this goal. Middling to high priority. Now’s as good a time as ever to try, while I have free time.
  • Grab a bag of corn nuts and bust a nut – I tried it once, and I wanted to try it some more. Eventually, I realized I was fostering an emotional addiction to busting a nut. I try to limit this to a biweekly basis, at a maximum. I can cross this off my bucket list now, though.

Now to add any new goals I’ve picked up or remembered along the way.

  • Be able to do sik flips™ (This is something I’ve always wanted to be able to do, but it was on the back burner because I never did anything to progress towards this goal.) I think if I wanted to break this down, the first step on the path would be to start losing weight. Second, which would also complement weight loss, is picking up regular exercises that would be conducive to doing flips.
  • Dance, maybe? This one kinda came out of left field for me. I read an internet post about tango being popular in my area, so that might be something I pick up for the sake of socialization and as a way to get out of the house. Plus, it’s always good to have diverse interests. It’s not something I feel strongly about now, but it’s good to keep an open mind. I might end up really liking it.
  • Pick up a sport. This one may or may not help with the flipping. I’m interested in picking up BJJ or some kind of combat sport like Muay Thai. I’ve actually been pretty on and off on this. I used to go to a sports fitness class, but I quit at some point because I got too lazy to go.
  • Improve public speaking. Maybe go to Toastmasters?
  • There were more, but I forgot them. I probably should have written them down. Actually, now that I think of it, one goal I had was to start noting things that I didn’t want to forget, either by texting myself immediately or typing a note in my phone or writing the note down if I had pen and paper. I keep forgetting to do this, but I’m going to try to make this a habit. My memory sucks as it is, so instead of just living with it, I need to start rewiring my life to accommodate this.

That’s it for now. I’m ready to pass out, so I’m going to stop typing.